I had no idea

To carry on where I left off  (‘Addicted to laughter’, Jan 24, 2024) and bring readers up-to-date, I am pleased to say that I have now found a cure for my addiction in the form of The Best of Steptoe and Son.

Feeding my habit nightly with episodes of the old BBC television series, now showing on That’s TV UK (Freeview Channel 56), I began to wonder what I would do when this source of supply came to an end. In desperation I searched online for ‘steptoe and son scripts’ and, to my astonishment and delight, found that some of them had indeed been published in paperback by Pan Books in 1988. It was a matter of only a few more clicks to track down a secondhand copy for sale online.

Twelve brilliant scripts and a fascinating introduction by Galton and Simpson mean that I no longer need fear the day when old episodes cease to be broadcast on Freeview. I can see and hear them just by reading the scripts. For example… 

Cuckoo In The Nest

First transmission 21 December1970

Scene 1

The Steptoes’ lounge. Harold and Albert are playing chess. The board is laid out with some chess pieces and some other objects standing in for chess pieces. Harold makes a move, moving a thimble. Albert makes a move, moving a miniature liqueur bottle.

Scene 2

The street outside the Steptoes’ yard. A man gets out of a taxi, takes two suitcases and enters the yard.

Scene 3

The lounge. Albert picks up a nut from by his side, cracks it and eats it.

Harold: Oi, that’s my pawn you’ve just eaten.

Albert: Was it? I’d taken it anyway. (He moves the salt cellar.)

Harold: Now what do you think you’re doing?

Albert: I’m moving my queen.

Harold: That’s not your queen. That’s my bishop.

Albert: The salt cellar is my queen.

Harold: No, it’s not. The pepper pot is your queen. How can we play a proper game if you don’t know what your pieces are? Have you been moving anything else of mine?

Albert: Well, I don’t know now. Is that egg cup yours?

Harold: Yes.

Albert: Oh. Well, I’ve moved that. Twice.

Harold: That’s my king’s rook. Oh well, that’s it, isn’t it? You’ve cocked up my Sicilian defence. I mean, there’s no point in carrying on. I was trying out Novachensky’s opening gambit from the World Championships. No wonder it wasn’t coming off.

Reading the script is not just like watching it on television, it’s like being in the room while Galton and Simpson were writing it. Two kinds of enjoyment in one.

I learned a lot from the introduction too, including something I didn’t know about Harry H.Corbett, the actor who played Harold.

“Harry H.Corbett was then the actor that everybody in the business most admired. Not so well known to the general public but in the profession considered to be one of the most exciting actors on the English stage. And an innovator. He and Joan Littlewood had started the Theatre Workshop in Stratford and he had founded the Langham Group, an experimental company playing Ibsen, Shaw, Strindberg, etc, on BBC television in the 50s. Harry was as influential in his sphere as Orson Welles had been with the Mercury Theatre company in America.”

I had no idea!


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